At any given time, approximately one in every 20 patients in hospitals or long-term healthcare facilities acquires an infection related to hospital care. These infections cost the U.S. healthcare system billions of dollars each year and can lead to these patients paying the ultimate price — their lives.

That’s the bad news. The good news is science has uncovered ways to prevent hospital-acquired infections. 

Jewish Hospital-Mercy Health can be held up as a shining example of what can be done to curb the rate of hospital-acquired infections (HAIs). In 2009, this Cincinnati healthcare provider had a real problem on its hands — it’s C. diff incident rate hit a high of 25.27 per 10,000 patients. But the hospital slashed the rate of these infections by 50 percent in under a year by standardizing care, adopting stricter antibiotic controls, and incorporating new room cleaning protocols. 

Though they adopted a three-prong approach to the problem, Jenny Martin, manager of quality administration, says, “In all honesty, altering our environmental cleaning practices had the most significant impact out of all the changes we made.”

As this example shows, when it comes to hospital-acquired infections cleaning practices can make a world of difference. 

“The science is now compelling and clear that environmental hygiene is an important component of infection control,” says Mark Heller, owner of Mark Heller Consulting Inc., an Alberta, Canada-based firm specializing in helping the Canadian healthcare system improve its operations.

Heller, who once served as the vice president of environmental services for Alberta Health Services, believes building service contractors need to be prepared to play an increasingly important role in mitigating the rate of hospital-acquired infections. Besides the science behind the role cleanliness plays, he says increased public concern and media awareness also have had an impact.

“A BSC that was underperforming might have been a local concern in the past, but in today’s global media world a significant failure by a BSC can become global news in minutes,” he says. 

Heller adds that healthcare financial reform is driving a sense of urgency to address the number of HAIs. 

“Hospitals are recognizing that HAIs are preventable and there is now financial pressure on them to act,” he says. “All of these forces together are creating a paradigm shift.”

As pressures mount for BSCs in healthcare settings, Peter Sheldon, an executive at Capital Contractors Inc., a cleaning contractor with healthcare clients across the country, expresses concern. 

“Many BSCs still approach healthcare facilities in the same way they approach any other facility,” he says. “We still have BSCs working in healthcare facilities that slop around dirty mops, cross-contaminating surfaces; using disinfectants without an understanding of why or how a disinfectant works; and lacking adequate education to effectively contribute to infection prevention.”


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Challenges Of Infection Control Cleaning